As many of you know, last weekend Sean “Diddy” Combs received an honorary doctorate from Howard University. As he delivered his keynote speech, he was surrounded by supportive family and friends such as Mary J. Blige, Mama Diddy, Kim Porter and his children, Jermaine Dupri,, French Montana, and others.

Combs attended Howard for two years and had his share of financial hardship. He left early to return to New York and pursue his first job in the music industry, eventually going on to become a music industry heavyweight, producing and recording with iconic pop artists such as Notorious B.I.G, Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim, Jay Z and others. For weeks prior to the commencement ceremony, many of us wondered, however, the extent to which his body of work qualified him for such an esteemed honor, especially since he was a college drop out.


What could he possibly say that would promote higher education?

During his address to the 2014 class, “Dr. Diddy” (as the HU students chanted) shared in the manner of a Fireside Chat about a little known pivotal moment at HU. In the middle of settling into campus life, he decided to do research at the library on how his father died.  According to Combs, he learned from the Amsterdam News that his father Melvin Combs died in a drug deal gone bad. This discovery greatly impacted the ways in which he identified as a first generation college student who was without a model of academic achievement. His story is important and it is not new. In fact, over the course of the weekend I attended several HU events to support my sister Angela Jones, M.Div. 2014. Many graduating students shared similar stories of navigating education and financial hardship.

In retrospect, Combs claims that in accepting his father’s hustle narrative, he also embraced his father’s entrepreneurial spirit but chose to explore legal paths. Entrepreneurship is often defined by one’s ability to take risks, which is an attribute many schools did not engage when he was in school. Recently many schools have begun to cultivate this realm of knowledge in their undergraduates. Schools are facilitating Start up competitions and business accelerator programs to reward their students for exploring entrepreneurship while in school. These sorts of resources are especially important for minorities and first generation students who are balancing the pressure of achievement and supporting themselves through college.


While it was a contested a decision, I do applaud Howard University for displaying Sean Combs’ narrative to the their students and broader academic community. By doing so, they revealed the external issues that distract students and threaten minority student retention. Further, they also elevated a broader notion of what high achievement looks like that is socially and culturally relevant.

Combs story does not glorify an academic slacker. In many ways, Combs exemplifies the merits of unconventional education approaches such as self-guided and praxis based learning that have been researched and are accepted in the academy now.

In his first “public lecture” as Dr. Combs, his story revealed the following insights that the academic community might consider to retain minority and first generation students:

  1. Colleges and universities should aggressively provide and de-stigmatize counseling to treat student’s adjustment to college life.
  2. Consider providing start up and accelerator programs that target students who come from low income, high minority settings.
  3. Provide peer and intergenerational mentorship for minority and first generation students.
  4. Invite diverse accomplished people to tell their stories to the student body. Allow them to illustrate the ways in which they make good decisions and follow their instinct.
  5. Expose students to the merits of failure. Teach them that their success will be sustainable when they do not avoid failure.


To the class of 2014, Combs said,

  1. Learn the power of your dream. With dreams, you can do anything. He said, “I am a flying unicorn in my dreams.”
  2. You “can’t stop, won’t stop. I thought I told you that we won’t stop.”

Take that, Take that!

Congratulations to the 2014 Howard University graduates!!!